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“Simeon and Levi are comrades, their weaponry is a stolen craft. Into their conspiracy may my soul not enter! With their congregation, do not join, O my honor! For in their rage they murdered people and at their whim they hamstrung an ox. Accursed is their rage for it is intense, and their wrath for it is harsh; I will separate them within Jacob, and I will disperse them in Israel.” (Genesis 49:5-7)
“Of Levi he said: Your Tumin and Your Urim befit Your devout one, who you tested at Massah, and whom you challenged at the waters of Meribah. The one who he said of his father and mother, ‘I have not favored him;’ his brothers did not give him recognition, and his children he did not know; for they have observed Your word and Your covenant they preserved. They shall teach Your ordinances to Jacob and Your Torah to Israel; they shall place incense before your presence, and burnt offerings on Your Altar. Bless, O Hashem, his resources, and favor the work of his hands; smash the loins of his foes and his enemies, that they may not rise.” (Deuteronomy: 33:8-11)
The tribe of Levi is the heart and soul of the Jewish people and, by extension, the world. Throughout the history of the Jewish people, the Tribe of Levi has always been unique and separate from his brothers, taking the “high road” and elevating himself above the failings of his brothers. Our Sages tell us that in Egypt the Levites were exempt from slave labor because they spent their days toiling in Torah. At the sin of the golden calf, it was the tribe of Levi who refused to be enticed by idol worship. It is for this that the tribe of Levi was chosen to serve in the Holy Temple. The Levites were the chorus who sang the daily psalms of the Temple and played harps, lyres, flutes and other gentle instruments in honor of the holy service. The Kohanim, the Priests, were an even more elevated family within Levi whose job was to bring the sacrifices, burn the incense, and light the menorah in the Holy chamber of the Temple. The Talmud tells us that the whole world was sustained by these sacrifices. In addition, the Levites did not receive a portion in the land. They were the teachers of Torah, supported by the tithes that were the obligatory duty of every individual of the nation, and were therefore spread across the land, bringing G-d’s wisdom to the Jewish people. Torah is likened to water for Torah is the lifeblood of the world, from which all creation draws its strength. In addition, the tribe of Levi governed the cities of refuge, to where an accidental killer would flee to escape the revenge of the victim’s family. Their job was to provide a warm safe haven where the killer could live out his life until the death of the High Priest. The sages say that “On three things the world stands: Torah, service of G-d, and acts of loving-kindness.” The tribe of Levi epitomized these values, and therefore sustains the whole universe.
Lynette Joel’s fourth piece in her Twelve Tribes of Jacob, is the tribe of “Levi.” The elements of the design are superimposed on the image of the globe, reflecting Levi’s universal impact. The background is a map of the land of Israel with the symbols of all twelve tribes scattered throughout the land, reflecting Levi’s mission of bringing G-dliness to the whole nation. The cities of refuge are also demarcated on the map. Inside the globe is the image of the water basin which the Levites used to purify their hand and feet before doing the service in the Temple. The water running out is also representative of the Torah that flowed out of the tribe of Levi. As one scans around the piece, one will notice the various services of the Temple, all interwoven into the great picture, reflecting Levi’s mission of bringing spiritual sustenance to all of creation.